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BIOS-Saviour Review


Freebie alert: IOSS kindly supplied this product to burningissues gratis 

There's only one straight-up way to start this review, & we just don't care if it blows our reputation for being on the downright picky edge of objective: 

get this thing now

 

Here's the 256Kb BIOS of our MSI 694D Pro-A test-system waiting to get screwed up. Candidates are: a virus - like CIH - or any of the number of ways a BIOS-flash can go wrong: using the wrong file; corruption during its download; the process being interrupted by error or a power-failure; fiddling [like us] with experimental BIOS' - or above all now, being fooled into using one of the crazy "Live Update" schemes in fashion with mobo-makers; where they encourage you to flash your system-BIOS from inside the flaking walls of Windows 9x . . . . . 

Like most really neat ideas; the IOSS BIOS-Saviour is  simple: it is a second, backup BIOS-chip packaged in a neat socket-adaptor which rides piggy-back atop the existing BIOS-socket. The adaptor is thin enough in height that full-length PCI cards can still be fitted without being blocked - we've checked this. The paired wires in the foreground lead to . . . . . . 

 . . . a two-way switch which you can fix into the back of your system; either in a spare D-sub housing or in the supplied coverplate as here. You can then switch between the original & a backup BIOS at will once you've flashed the backup.

While testing the BIOS-saviour, we ignored the normal precautions for making this critical process less dangerous: as I'm sure you all know, these are:

1) check the size of the BIOS-image file [262,144 in this case]

2) d/l twice, & run a bit-by-bit comparison.

3) scandisk the boot-floppy for any faults with the command: SCANDISK A: /SURFACE - & put only minimal boot-files on this disk, either in DOS, or from right-clicking the loaded floppy-drive in Windows Explorer, choosing "format", then checking the "system files" radio-button

4) making absolutely sure you're using the right BIOS-file for your motherboard & the right make & version flash-utility, & making a note of any switches you may need to use - the truly paranoid also d/l the flash-utility twice & run bit-by-bit checks to make sure the thing isn't corrupted. 

Our tests ranged from the moderately dorky - using [yech] a BIOS-flashing utility from inside Windows 9x - to the truly stupid: pulling the plug on our system half-way through a BIOS-flash. We also made & tried out six experimental BIOS' during the period of this test: in total we flashed the BIOS of this mobo 16 times in ten days.

In all blank-screen cases all we needed to do to recover our system was to turn off, move the BIOS-saviour's switch to the "ORG" [original-BIOS] position, reboot with a properly prepared BIOS-flashing boot-floppy in; then, at the A:> prompt, to move the switch back to "RDI" [the backup-BIOS we'd just screwed] & use the flash-utility to reflash this BIOS to a working condition.

The IOSS BIOS-saviour comes in various models to fit most motherboards: the model we tested - the RD1-PL - fits those mobo's with a 32-pin 2Mbit PLCC [small square package]; other models fit 1Mbit & 2Mbit 32-pin DIP's [large rectangular chips] & the 4Mbit PLCC for motherboards using the Intel 810/815/820/840/850 chipset family. The BIOS-saviour comes in a pack with the necessary kit - including a chip-puller & a fair manual: there's a list here of those motherboards IOSS have tested to work with the appropriate RD1 model.

We cannot emphasize enough how vital this clever little belt-'n-braces widget is to users of every experience-level: a very few modern motherboards [notably Gigabyte] have an inbuilt hardware BIOS-backup; but most of us - if anything goes wrong - will completely lose that system till we've gone through the expensive & time-consuming hassle of sourcing & fitting a replacement BIOS-chip.

There's a test from one of the few reliable web-sites of the DIP-model [RD1-1M & 2M] at: www.overclockers.com - & we'll be testing the model for the i8xx chipsets [the RD1-8x] as soon as possible. There's no especial reason to be cautious about the i8xx model; but it's a different & more complex "firmware hub" & it's probably best to await a test from a trustworthy source before getting one.

 

copyright shoarthing November 2000 for Burningissues.net - all rights reserved - with thanks to Sophie at IOSS

 

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